I however once more recovered my spirit of determination. I resolved that, while I had life, I would never be deserted by this spirit. Oppressed, annihilated I might be; but, if I died, I would die resisting. What use, what advantage, what pleasurable sentiment, could arise from a tame surrender? There is no man that is ignorant, that to humble yourself at the feet of the law is a bootless task; in her courts there is no room for amendment and reformation.
My fortitude may to some persons appear above the standard of human nature. But if I draw back the veil from my heart they will readily confess their mistake. My heart bled at every pore. My resolution was not the calm sentiment of philosophy and reason. It was a gloomy and desperate purpose: the creature, not of hope, but of a mind austerely held to its design, that felt, as it were, satisfied with the naked effort, and prepared to give success or miscarriage to the winds. It was to this miserable condition, which might awaken sympathy in the most hardened bosom, that Mr. Falkland had reduced me.
In the mean time, strange as it may seem, here, in prison, subject to innumerable hardships, and in the assured expectation of a sentence of death, I recovered my health. I ascribe this to the state of my mind, which was now changed, from perpetual anxiety, terror, and alarm, the too frequent inmates of a prison, but which I upon this occasion did not seem to bring along with me, to a desperate firmness.
I anticipated the event of my trial. I determined once more to escape from my prison; nor did I doubt of my ability to effect at least this first step towards my future preservation. The assizes however were near, and there were certain considerations, unnecessary to be detailed, that persuaded me there might be benefit in waiting till my trial should actually be terminated, before I made my attempt.
It stood upon the list as one of the latest to be brought forward. I was therefore extremely surprised to find it called out of its order, early on the morning of the second day. But, if this were unexpected, how much greater was my astonishment, when my prosecutor was called, to find neither Mr. Falkland, nor Mr. Forester, nor a single individual of any description, appear against me! The recognizances into which my prosecutors had entered were declared to be forfeited; and I was dismissed without further impediment from the bar.
The effect which this incredible reverse produced upon my mind it is impossible to express. I, who had come to that bar with the sentence of death already in idea ringing in my ears, to be told that I was free to transport myself whithersoever I pleased! Was it for this that I had broken through so many locks and bolts, and the adamantine walls of my prison; that I had passed so many anxious days, and sleepless, spectre-haunted nights; that I had racked my invention for expedients of evasion and concealment; that my mind had been roused to an energy of which I could scarcely have believed it capable; that my existence had been enthralled to an ever-living torment, such as I could scarcely have supposed it in man to endure? Great God! what is man? Is he thus blind to the future, thus totally unsuspecting of what is to occur in the next moment of his existence? I have somewhere read, that heaven in mercy hides from us the future incidents of our life. My own experience does not well accord with this assertion. In this instance at least I should have been saved from insupportable labour and undescribable anguish, could I have foreseen the catastrophe of this most interesting transaction.
It was not long before I took my everlasting leave of this detested and miserable scene. My heart was for the present too full of astonishment and exultation in my unexpected deliverance, to admit of anxiety about the future. I withdrew from the town; I rambled with a slow and thoughtful pace, now bursting with exclamation, and now buried in profound and undefinable reverie. Accident led me towards the very heath which had first sheltered me, when, upon a former occasion, I broke out of my prison. I wandered among its cavities and its valleys. It was a forlorn and desolate solitude. I continued here I know not how long. Night at length overtook me unperceived, and I prepared to return for the present to the town I had quitted.
It was now perfectly dark, when two men, whom I had not previously observed, sprung upon me from behind. They seized me by the arms, and threw me upon the ground. I had no time for resistance or recollection. I could however perceive that one of them was the diabolical Gines. They blindfolded, gagged me, and hurried me I knew not whither. As we passed along in silence, I endeavoured to conjecture what could be the meaning of this extraordinary violence. I was strongly impressed with the idea, that, after the event of this morning, the most severe and painful part of my history was past; and, strange as it may seem, I could not persuade myself to regard with alarm this unexpected attack. It might however be some new project, suggested by the brutal temper and unrelenting animosity of Gines.
I presently found that we were returned into the town I had just quitted. They led me into a house, and, as soon as they had taken possession of a room freed me from the restraints they had before imposed Here Gines informed me with a malicious grin that no harm was intended me, and therefore I should show most sense in keeping myself quiet. I perceived that we were in an inn; I overheard company in a room at no great distance from us, and therefore was now as thoroughly aware as he could be, that there was at present little reason to stand in fear of any species of violence, and that it would be time enough to resist, when they attempted to conduct me from the inn in the same manner that they had brought me into it. I was not without some curiosity to see the conclusion that was to follow upon so extraordinary a commencement.
The preliminaries I have described were scarcely completed, before Mr. Falkland entered the room. I remember Collins, when he first communicated to me the particulars of our patron's history, observed that he was totally unlike the man he had once been. I had no means of ascertaining the truth of that observation. But it was strikingly applicable to the spectacle which now presented itself to my eyes, though, when I last beheld this unhappy man, he had been a victim to the same passions, a prey to the same undying remorse, as now. Misery was at that time inscribed in legible characters upon his countenance. But now he appeared like nothing that had ever been visible in human shape. His visage was haggard, emaciated, and fleshless. His complexion was a dun and tarnished red, the colour uniform through every region of the face, and suggested the idea of its being burnt and parched by the eternal fire that burned within him. His eyes were red, quick, wandering, full of suspicion and rage. His hair was neglected, ragged, and floating. His whole figure was thin, to a degree that suggested the idea rather of a skeleton than a person actually alive. Life seemed hardly to be the capable inhabitant of so woe-begone and ghost-like a figure. The taper of wholesome life was expired; but passion, and fierceness, and frenzy, were able for the present to supply its place.
I was to the utmost degree astonished and shocked at the sight of him.—He sternly commanded my conductors to leave the room.
"Well, sir, I have this day successfully exerted myself to save your life from the gallows. A fortnight ago you did what you were able to bring my life to that ignominious close.
"Were you so stupid and undistinguishing as not to know that the preservation of your life was the uniform object of my exertions? Did not I maintain you in prison? Did not I endeavour to prevent your being sent thither? Could you mistake the bigoted and obstinate conduct of Forester, in offering a hundred guineas for your apprehension, for mine?
"I had my eye upon you in all your wanderings. You have taken no material step through their whole course with which I have not been acquainted. I meditated to do you good. I have spilt no blood but that of Tyrrel: that was in the moment of passion; and it has been the subject of my uninterrupted and hourly remorse. I have connived at no man's fate but that of the Hawkinses: they could no otherwise have been saved, than by my acknowledging myself a murderer. The rest of my life has been spent in acts of benevolence.
"I meditated to do you good. For that reason I was willing to prove you. You pretended to act towards me with consideration and forbearance. If you had persisted in that to the end, I would yet have found a way to reward you. I left you to your own discretion. You might show the impotent malignity of your own heart; but, in the circumstances in which you were then placed, I knew you could not hurt me. Your forbearance has proved, as I all along suspected, empty and treacherous. You have attempted to blast my reputation. You have sought to disclose the select and eternal secret of my soul. Because you have done that, I will never forgive you. I will remember it to my latest breath. The memory shall survive me, when my existence is no more. Do you think you are out of the reach of my power, because a court of justice has acquitted you?"
While Mr. Falkland was speaking a sudden distemper came over his countenance, his whole frame was shaken by an instantaneous convulsion, and he staggered to a chair. In about three minutes he recovered.
"Yes," said he, "I am still alive. I shall live for days, and months, and years; the power that made me, of whatever kind it be, can only determine how long. I live the guardian of my reputation. That, and to endure a misery such as man never endured, are the only ends to which I live. But, when I am no more, my fame shall still survive. My character shall be revered as spotless and unimpeachable by all posterity, as long as the name of Falkland shall be repeated in the most distant regions of the many-peopled globe."
Having said this, he returned to the discourse which more immediately related to my future condition and happiness.
"There is one condition," said he, "upon which you may obtain some mitigation of your future calamity. It is for that purpose that I have sent for you. Listen to my proposal with deliberation and sobriety. Remember, that the insanity is not less to trifle with the resolved determination of my soul, than it would be to pull a mountain upon your head that hung trembling upon the edge of the mighty Apennine!
"I insist then upon your signing a paper, declaring, in the most solemn manner, that I am innocent of murder, and that the charge you alleged at the office in Bow-street is false, malicious, and groundless. Perhaps you may scruple out of a regard to truth. Is truth then entitled to adoration for its own sake, and not for the sake of the happiness it is calculated to produce? Will a reasonable man sacrifice to barren truth, when benevolence, humanity, and every consideration that is dear to the human heart, require that it should be superseded? It is probable that I may never make use of this paper, but I require it, as the only practicable reparation to the honour you have assailed. This is what I had to propose. I expect your answer."
"Sir," answered I, "I have heard you to an end, and I stand in need of no deliberation to enable me to answer you in the negative. You took me up a raw and inexperienced boy, capable of being moulded to any form you pleased. But you have communicated to me volumes of experience in a very short period. I am no longer irresolute and pliable. What is the power you retain over my fate I am unable to discover. You may destroy me; but you cannot make me tremble. I am not concerned to enquire, whether what I have suffered flowed from you by design or otherwise; whether you were the author of my miseries, or only connived at them. This I know, that I have suffered too exquisitely on your account, for me to feel the least remaining claim on your part to my making any voluntary sacrifice.
"You say that benevolence and humanity require this sacrifice of me. No; it would only be a sacrifice to your mad and misguided love of fame,—to that passion which has been the source of all your miseries, of the most tragical calamities to others, and of every misfortune that has happened to me. I have no forbearance to exercise towards that passion. If you be not yet cured of this tremendous and sanguinary folly, at least I will do nothing to cherish it. I know not whether from my youth I was destined for a hero; but I may thank you for having taught me a lesson of insurmountable fortitude.
"What is it that you require of me? that I should sign away my own reputation for the better maintaining of yours. Where is the equality of that? What is it that casts me at such an immense distance below you, as to make every thing that relates to me wholly unworthy of consideration? You have been educated in the prejudice of birth. I abhor that prejudice. You have made me desperate, and I utter what that desperation suggests.
"You will tell me perhaps that I have no reputation to lose; that, while you are esteemed faultless and unblemished, I am universally reputed a thief, a suborner, and a calumniator. Be it so. I will never do any thing to countenance those imputations. The more I am destitute of the esteem of mankind, the more careful I will be to preserve my own. I will never from fear, or any other mistaken motive, do any thing of which I ought to be ashamed.
"You are determined to be for ever my enemy. I have in no degree deserved this eternal abhorrence. I have always esteemed and pitied you. For a considerable time I rather chose to expose myself to every kind of misfortune, than disclose the secret that was so dear to you. I was not deterred by your menaces—(what could you make me suffer more than I actually suffered?)—but by the humanity of my own heart; in which, and not in means of violence, you ought to have reposed your confidence. What is the mysterious vengeance that you can yet execute against me? You menaced me before; you can menace no worse now. You are wearing out the springs of terror. Do with me as you please; you teach me to hear you with an unshrinking and desperate firmness. Recollect yourself! I did not proceed to the step with which you reproach me, till I was apparently urged to the very last extremity. I had suffered as much as human nature can suffer; I had lived in the midst of eternal alarm and unintermitted watchfulness; I had twice been driven to purposes of suicide. I am now sorry however, that the step of which you complain was ever adopted. But, urged to exasperation by an unintermitted rigour, I had no time to cool or to deliberate. Even at present I cherish no vengeance against you. All that is reasonable, all that can really contribute to your security, I will readily concede; but I will not be driven to an act repugnant to all reason, integrity, and justice."
Mr. Falkland listened to me with astonishment and impatience. He had entertained no previous conception of the firmness I displayed. Several times he was convulsed with the fury that laboured in his breast. Once and again he betrayed an intention to interrupt; but he was restrained by the collectedness of my manner, and perhaps by a desire to be acquainted with the entire state of my mind. Finding that I had concluded, he paused for a moment; his passion seemed gradually to enlarge, till it was no longer capable of control.
"It is well!" said he, gnashing his teeth, and stamping upon the ground. "You refuse the composition I offer! I have no power to persuade you to compliance! You defy me! At least I have a power respecting you, and that power I will exercise; a power that shall grind you into atoms. I condescend to no more expostulation. I know what I am, and what I can be. I know what you are, and what fate is reserved for you!"
Saying this he quitted the room.
Such were the particulars of this memorable scene. The impression it has left upon my understanding is indelible. The figure and appearance of Mr. Falkland, his death-like weakness and decay, his more than mortal energy and rage, the words that he spoke, the motives that animated him, produced one compounded effect upon my mind that nothing of the same nature could ever parallel. The idea of his misery thrilled through my frame. How weak in comparison of it is the imaginary hell, which the great enemy of mankind is represented as carrying every where about with him!
From this consideration, my mind presently turned to the menaces he had vented against myself. They were all mysterious and undefined. He had talked of power, but had given no hint from which I could collect in what he imagined it to consist. He had talked of misery, but had not dropped a syllable respecting the nature of the misery to be inflicted.
I sat still for some time, ruminating on these thoughts. Neither Mr. Falkland nor any other person appeared to disturb my meditations. I rose, went out of the room, and from the inn into the street. No one offered to molest me. It was strange! What was the nature of this power, from which I was to apprehend so much, yet which seemed to leave me at perfect liberty? I began to imagine that all I had heard from this dreadful adversary was mere madness and extravagance, and that he was at length deprived of the use of reason, which had long served him only as a medium of torment. Yet was it likely in that case that he should be able to employ Gines and his associate, who had just been his instruments of violence upon my person?
I proceeded along the streets with considerable caution. I looked before me and behind me, as well as the darkness would allow me to do, that I might not again be hunted in sight by some men of stratagem and violence without my perceiving it. I went not, as before, beyond the limits of the town, but considered the streets, the houses, and the inhabitants, as affording some degree of security. I was still walking with my mind thus full of suspicion and forecast, when I discovered Thomas, that servant of Mr. Falkland whom I have already more than once had occasion to mention. He advanced towards me with an air so blunt and direct, as instantly to remove from me the idea of any thing insidious in his purpose; besides that I had always felt the character of Thomas, rustic and uncultivated as it was, to be entitled to a more than common portion of esteem.
"Thomas," said I, as he advanced, "I hope you are willing to give me joy, that I am at length delivered from the dreadful danger which for many months haunted me so unmercifully."
"No," rejoined Thomas, roughly; "I be not at all willing. I do not know what to make of myself in this affair. While you were in prison in that miserable fashion, I felt all at one almost as if I loved you: and now that that is over, and you are turned out loose in the world to do your worst, my blood rises at the very sight of you. To look at you, you are almost that very lad Williams for whom I could with pleasure, as it were, have laid down my life; and yet, behind that smiling face there lie robbery, and lying, and every thing that is ungrateful and murderous. Your last action was worse than all the rest. How could you find in your heart to revive that cruel story about Mr. Tyrrel, which every body had agreed, out of regard to the squire, never to mention again, and of which I know, and you know, he is as innocent as the child unborn? There are causes and reasons, or else I could have wished from the bottom of my soul never to have set eyes on you again."
"And you still persist in your hard thoughts of me?"
"Worse! I think worse of you than ever! Before, I thought you as bad as man could be. I wonder from my soul what you are to do next. But you make good the old saying, 'Needs must go, that the devil drives.'"
"And so there is never to be an end of my misfortunes! What can Mr. Falkland contrive for me worse than the ill opinion and enmity of all mankind?"
"Mr. Falkland contrive! He is the best friend you have in the world, though you are the basest traitor to him. Poor man! it makes one's heart ache to look at him; he is the very image of grief. And it is not clear to me that it is not all owing to you. At least you have given the finishing lift to the misfortune that was already destroying him. There have been the devil and all to pay between him and squire Forester. The squire is right raving mad with my master, for having outwitted him in the matter of the trial, and saved your life. He swears that you shall be taken up and tried all over again at the next assizes; but my master is resolute, and I believe will carry it his own way. He says indeed that the law will not allow squire Forester to have his will in this. To see him ordering every thing for your benefit, and taking all your maliciousness as mild and innocent as a lamb, and to think of your vile proceedings against him, is a sight one shall not see again, go all the world over. For God's sake, repent of your reprobate doings, and make what little reparation is in your power! Think of your poor soul, before you awake, as to be sure one of these days you will, in fire and brimstone everlasting!"
Saying this, he held out his hand and took hold of mine. The action seemed strange; but I at first thought it the unpremeditated result of his solemn and well-intended adjuration. I felt however that he put something into my hand. The next moment he quitted his hold, and hastened from me with the swiftness of an arrow. What he had thus given me was a bank-note of twenty pounds. I had no doubt that he had been charged to deliver it to me from Mr. Falkland.
What was I to infer? what light did it throw upon the intentions of my inexorable persecutor? his animosity against me was as great as ever; that I had just had confirmed to me from his own mouth. Yet his animosity appeared to be still tempered with the remains of humanity. He prescribed to it a line, wide enough to embrace the gratification of his views, and within the boundaries of that line it stopped. But this discovery carried no consolation to my mind. I knew not what portion of calamity I was fated to endure, before his jealousy of dishonour, and inordinate thirst of fame would deem themselves satisfied.
Another question offered itself. Was I to receive the money which had just been put into my hands? the money of a man who had inflicted upon me injuries, less than those which he had entailed upon himself, but the greatest that one man can inflict upon another? who had blasted my youth, who had destroyed my peace, who had held me up to the abhorrence of mankind, and rendered me an outcast upon the face of the earth? who had forced the basest and most atrocious falsehoods, and urged them with a seriousness and perseverance which produced universal belief? who, an hour before, had vowed against me inexorable enmity, and sworn to entail upon me misery without end? Would not this conduct on my part betray a base and abject spirit, that crouched under tyranny, and kissed the hands that were imbrued in my blood?
If these reasons appeared strong, neither was the other side without reasons in reply. I wanted the money: not for any purpose of vice or superfluity, but for those purposes without which life cannot subsist. Man ought to be able, wherever placed, to find for himself the means of existence; but I was to open a new scene of life, to remove to some distant spot, to be prepared against all the ill-will of mankind, and the unexplored projects of hostility of a most accomplished foe. The actual means of existence are the property of all. What should hinder me from taking that of which I was really in want, when, in taking it, I risked no vengeance, and perpetrated no violence? The property in question will be beneficial to me, and the voluntary surrender of it is accompanied with no injury to its late proprietor; what other condition can be necessary to render the use of it on my part a duty? He that lately possessed it has injured me; does that alter its value as a medium of exchange? He will boast, perhaps of the imaginary obligation he has conferred on me: surely to shrink from a thing in itself right from any such apprehension, can be the result only of pusillanimity and cowardice!
Influenced by these reasonings, I determined to retain what had thus been put into my hands. My next care was in regard to the scene I should choose, as the retreat of that life which I had just saved from the grasp of the executioner. The danger to which I was exposed of forcible interruption in my pursuits, was probably, in some respects, less now than it had been previously to this crisis. Besides, that I was considerably influenced in this deliberation by the strong loathing I conceived for the situations in which I had lately been engaged. I knew not in what mode Mr. Falkland intended to exercise his vengeance against me; but I was seized with so unconquerable an aversion to disguise, and the idea of spending my life in personating a fictitious character, that I could not, for the present at least, reconcile my mind to any thing of that nature. The same kind of disgust I had conceived for the metropolis, where I had spent so many hours of artifice, sadness, and terror. I therefore decided in favour of the project which had formerly proved amusing to my imagination, of withdrawing to some distant, rural scene, a scene of calmness and obscurity, where for a few years at least, perhaps during the life of Mr. Falkland, I might be hidden from the world, recover the wounds my mind had received in this fatal connection, methodise and improve the experience which had been accumulated, cultivate the faculties I in any degree possessed, and employ the intervals of these occupations in simple industry, and the intercourse of guileless, uneducated, kind-intentioned minds. The menaces of my persecutor seemed to forebode the inevitable interruption of this system. But I deemed it wise to put these menaces out of my consideration I compared them to death, which must infallibly overtake us we know not when; but the possibility of whose arrival next year, next week, to-morrow, must be left out of the calculation of him who would enter upon any important or well-concerted undertaking.
Such were the ideas that determined my choice. Thus did my youthful mind delineate the system of distant years, even when the threats of instant calamity still sounded in my ears. I was inured to the apprehension of mischief, till at last the hoarse roarings of the beginning tempest had lost their power of annihilating my peace. I however thought it necessary, while I was most palpably within the sphere of the enemy, to exert every practicable degree of vigilance. I was careful not to incur the hazards of darkness and solitude. When I left the town it was with the stage-coach, an obvious source of protection against glaring and enormous violence. Meanwhile I found myself no more exposed to molestation in my progress, than the man in the world who should have had the least reason for apprehensions of this nature. As the distance increased, I relaxed something in my precaution, though still awake to a sense of danger, and constantly pursued with the image of my foe. I fixed upon an obscure market-town in Wales as the chosen seat of my operations. This place recommended itself to my observation as I was wandering in quest of an abode. It was clean, cheerful, and of great simplicity of appearance. It was at a distance from any public and frequented road, and had nothing which could deserve the name of trade. The face of nature around it was agreeably diversified, being partly wild and romantic, and partly rich and abundant in production.
Here I solicited employment in two professions; the first, that of a watchmaker, in which though the instructions I had received were few, they were eked out and assisted by a mind fruitful in mechanical invention; the other, that of an instructor in mathematics and its practical application, geography, astronomy, land-surveying, and navigation. Neither of these was a very copious source of emolument in the obscure retreat I had chosen for myself; but, if my receipts were slender, my disbursements were still fewer. In this little town I became acquainted with the vicar, the apothecary, the lawyer, and the rest of the persons who, time out of mind, had been regarded as the top gentry of the place. Each of these centred in himself a variety of occupations. There was little in the appearance of the vicar that reminded you of his profession, except on the recurring Sunday. At other times he condescended, with his evangelical hand to guide the plough, or to drive the cows from the field to the farm-yard for the milking. The apothecary occasionally officiated as a barber, and the lawyer was the village schoolmaster.
By all these persons I was received with kindness and hospitality. Among people thus remote from the bustle of human life there is an open spirit of confidence, by means of which a stranger easily finds access to their benevolence and good-will. My manners had never been greatly debauched from the simplicity of rural life by the scenes through which I had passed; and the hardships I had endured had given additional mildness to my character. In the theatre upon which I was now placed I had no rival. My mechanical occupation had hitherto been a non-resident; and the schoolmaster, who did not aspire to the sublime heights of science I professed to communicate, was willing to admit me as a partner in the task of civilising the unpolished manners of the inhabitants. For the parson, civilisation was no part of his trade; his business was with the things of a better life, not with the carnal concerns of this material scene; in truth, his thoughts were principally occupied with his oatmeal and his cows.
These however were not the only companions which this remote retirement afforded me. There was a family of a very different description, of which I gradually became the chosen intimate. The father was a shrewd, sensible, rational man, but who had turned his principal attention to subjects of agriculture. His wife was a truly admirable and extraordinary woman. She was the daughter of a Neapolitan nobleman, who, after having visited, and made a considerable figure, in every country in Europe, had at length received the blow of fate in this village. He had been banished his country upon suspicion of religious and political heresy, and his estates confiscated. With this only child, like Prospero in the Tempest, he had withdrawn himself to one of the most obscure and uncultivated regions of the world. Very soon however after his arrival in Wales he had been seized with a malignant fever, which carried him off in three days. He died possessed of no other property than a few jewels, and a bill of credit, to no considerable amount, upon an English banker.
Here then was the infant Laura, left in a foreign country, and without a single friend. The father of her present husband was led by motives of pure humanity to seek to mitigate the misfortunes of the dying Italian. Though a plain uninstructed man, with no extraordinary refinement of intellect, there was something in his countenance that determined the stranger in his present forlorn and melancholy situation, to make him his executor, and the guardian of his daughter. The Neapolitan understood enough of English to explain his wishes to this friendly attendant of his death-bed. As his circumstances were narrow, the servants of the stranger, two Italians, a male and a female, were sent back to their own country soon after the death of their master.
Laura was at this time eight years of age. At these tender years she had been susceptible of little direct instruction; and, as she grew up, even the memory of her father became, from year to year, more vague and indistinct in her mind. But there was something she derived from her father, whether along with the life he bestowed, or as the consequence of his instruction and manners, which no time could efface. Every added year of her life contributed to develop the fund of her accomplishments. She read, she observed, she reflected. Without instructors, she taught herself to draw, to sing, and to understand the more polite European languages. As she had no society in this remote situation but that of peasants, she had no idea of honour or superiority to be derived from her acquisitions; but pursued them from a secret taste, and as the sources of personal enjoyment.
A mutual attachment gradually arose between her and the only son of her guardian. His father led him, from early youth, to the labours and the sports of the field, and there was little congeniality between his pursuits and those of Laura. But this was a defect that she was slow to discover. She had never been accustomed to society in her chosen amusements, and habit at that time even made her conceive, that they were indebted to solitude for an additional relish. The youthful rustic had great integrity, great kindness of heart, and was a lad of excellent sense. He was florid, well-proportioned, and the goodness of his disposition made his manners amiable. Accomplishments greater than these she had never seen in human form, since the death of her father. In fact, she is scarcely to be considered as a sufferer in this instance; since, in her forlorn and destitute condition, it is little probable, when we consider the habits and notions that now prevail, that her accomplishments, unassisted by fortune, would have procured her an equal alliance in marriage.
When she became a mother her heart opened to a new affection. The idea now presented itself, which had never occurred before, that in her children at least she might find the partners and companions of her favourite employments. She was, at the time of my arrival, mother of four, the eldest of which was a son. To all of them she had been a most assiduous instructor. It was well for her perhaps that she obtained this sphere for the exercise of her mind. It came just at the period when the charm which human life derives from novelty is beginning to wear off. It gave her new activity and animation. It is perhaps impossible that the refinements of which human nature is capable should not, after a time, subside into sluggishness, if they be not aided by the influence of society and affection.
The son of the Welch farmer by this admirable woman was about seventeen years of age at the time of my settlement in their neighbourhood. His eldest sister was one year younger than himself. The whole family composed a group, with which a lover of tranquillity and virtue would have delighted to associate in any situation. It is easy therefore to conceive how much I rejoiced in their friendship, in this distant retirement, and suffering, as I felt myself, from the maltreatment and desertion of my species. The amiable Laura had a wonderful quickness of eye, and rapidity of apprehension; but this feature in her countenance was subdued by a sweetness of disposition, such as I never in any other instance saw expressed in the looks of a human being. She soon distinguished me by her kindness and friendship; for, living as she had done, though familiar with the written productions of a cultivated intellect, she had never seen the thing itself realised in a living being, except in the person of her father. She delighted to converse with me upon subjects of literature and taste, and she eagerly invited my assistance in the education of her children. The son, though young, had been so happily improved and instructed by his mother, that I found in him nearly all the most essential qualities we require in a friend. Engagement and inclination equally led me to pass a considerable part of every day in this agreeable society. Laura treated me as if I had been one of the family; and I sometimes flattered myself that I might one day become such in reality. What an enviable resting-place for me, who had known nothing but calamity, and had scarcely dared to look for sympathy and kindness in the countenance of a human being!
The sentiments of friendship which early disclosed themselves between me and the member of this amiable family daily became stronger. At every interview, the confidence reposed in me by the mother increased. While our familiarity gained in duration, it equally gained in that subtlety of communication by which it seemed to shoot forth its roots in every direction. There are a thousand little evanescent touches in the development of a growing friendship, that are neither thought of, nor would be understood, between common acquaintances. I honoured and esteemed the respectable Laura like a mother; for, though the difference of our ages was by no means sufficient to authorise the sentiment, it was irresistibly suggested to me by the fact of her always being presented to my observation under the maternal character. Her son was a lad of great understanding, generosity, and feeling, and of no contemptible acquirements; while his tender years, and the uncommon excellence of his mother, subtracted something from the independence of his judgment, and impressed him with a sort of religious deference for her will. In the eldest daughter I beheld the image of Laura; for that I felt attached to her for the present; and I sometimes conceived it probable that hereafter I might learn to love her for her own sake—Alas, it was thus that I amused myself with the visions of distant years, while I stood in reality on the brink of the precipice!
It will perhaps be thought strange that I never once communicated the particulars of my story to this amiable matron, or to my young friend, for such I may also venture to call him, her son. But in truth I abhorred the memory of this story; I placed all my hopes of happiness in the prospect of its being consigned to oblivion. I fondly flattered myself that such would be the event: in the midst of my unlooked-for happiness, I scarcely recollected, or, recollecting, was disposed to yield but a small degree of credit to, the menaces of Mr. Falkland.
One day, that I was sitting alone with the accomplished Laura, she repeated his all-dreadful name. I started with astonishment, amazed that a woman like this, who knew nobody, who lived as it were alone in a corner of the universe, who had never in a single instance entered into any fashionable circle, this admirable and fascinating hermit, should, by some unaccountable accident, have become acquainted with this fatal and tremendous name. Astonishment however was not my only sensation. I became pale with terror; I rose from my seat; I attempted to sit down again; I reeled out of the room, and hastened to bury myself in solitude. The unexpectedness of the incident took from me all precaution, and overwhelmed my faculties. The penetrating Laura observed my behaviour; but nothing further occurred to excite her attention to it at that time; and, concluding from my manner that enquiry would be painful to me, she humanely suppressed her curiosity.
I afterwards found that Mr. Falkland had been known to the father of Laura; that he had been acquainted with the story of Count Malvesi, and with a number of other transactions redounding in the highest degree to the credit of the gallant Englishman. The Neapolitan had left letters in which these transactions were recorded, and which spoke of Mr. Falkland in the highest terms of panegyric. Laura had been used to regard every little relic of her father with a sort of religious veneration; and, by this accident, the name of Mr. Falkland was connected in her mind with the sentiments of unbounded esteem.
The scene by which I was surrounded was perhaps more grateful to me, than it would have been to most other persons with my degree of intellectual cultivation. Sore with persecution and distress, and bleeding at almost every vein, there was nothing I so much coveted as rest and tranquillity. It seemed as if my faculties were, at least for the time, exhausted by the late preternatural intensity of their exertions, and that they stood indispensably in need of a period of comparative suspension.
This was however but a temporary feeling. My mind had always been active, and I was probably indebted to the sufferings I had endured, and the exquisite and increased susceptibility they produced, for new energies. I soon felt the desire of some additional and vigorous pursuit. In this state of mind, I met by accident, in a neglected corner of the house of one of my neighbours, with a general dictionary of four of the northern languages. This incident gave a direction to my thoughts. In my youth I had not been inattentive to languages. I determined to attempt, at least for my own use, an etymological analysis of the English language. I easily perceived, that this pursuit had one advantage to a person in my situation, and that a small number of books, consulted with this view, would afford employment for a considerable time. I procured other dictionaries. In my incidental reading, I noted the manner in which words were used, and applied these remarks to the illustration of my general enquiry. I was unintermitted in my assiduity, and my collections promised to accumulate. Thus I was provided with sources both of industry and recreation, the more completely to divert my thoughts from the recollection of my past misfortunes.
In this state, so grateful to my feelings, week after week glided away without interruption and alarm. The situation in which I was now placed had some resemblance to that in which I had spent my earlier years, with the advantage of a more attractive society, and a riper judgment. I began to look back upon the intervening period as upon a distempered and tormenting dream; or rather perhaps my feelings were like those of a man recovered from an interval of raging delirium, from ideas of horror, confusion, flight, persecution, agony, and despair! When I recollected what I had undergone, it was not without satisfaction, as the recollection of a thing that was past; every day augmented my hope that it was never to return. Surely the dark and terrific menaces of Mr. Falkland were rather the perturbed suggestions of his angry mind, than the final result of a deliberate and digested system! How happy should I feel, beyond the ordinary lot of man, if, after the terrors I had undergone, I should now find myself unexpectedly restored to the immunities of a human being!
While I was thus soothing my mind with fond imaginations, it happened that a few bricklayers and their labourers came over from a distance of five or six miles, to work upon some additions to one of the better sort of houses in the town, which had changed its tenant. No incident could be more trivial than this, had it not been for a strange coincidence of time between this circumstance, and a change which introduced itself into my situation. This first manifested itself in a sort of shyness with which I was treated, first by one person, and then another, of my new-formed acquaintance. They were backward to enter into conversation with me, and answered my enquiries with an awkward and embarrassed air. When they met me in the street or the field, their countenances contracted a cloud, and they endeavoured to shun me. My scholars quitted me one after another; and I had no longer any employment in my mechanical profession. It is impossible to describe the sensations, which the gradual but uninterrupted progress of this revolution produced in my mind. It seemed as if I had some contagious disease, from which every man shrunk with alarm, and left me to perish unassisted and alone. I asked one man and another to explain to me the meaning of these appearances; but every one avoided the task, and answered in an evasive and ambiguous manner. I sometimes supposed that it was all a delusion of the imagination; till the repetition of the sensation brought the reality too painfully home to my apprehension. There are few things that give a greater shock to the mind, than a phenomenon in the conduct of our fellow men, of great importance to our concerns, and for which we are unable to assign any plausible reason. At times I was half inclined to believe that the change was not in other men, but that some alienation of my own understanding generated the horrid vision. I endeavoured to awaken from my dream, and return to my former state of enjoyment and happiness; but in vain. To the same consideration it may be ascribed, that, unacquainted with the source of the evil, observing its perpetual increase, and finding it, so far as I could perceive, entirely arbitrary in its nature, I was unable to ascertain its limits, or the degree in which it would finally overwhelm me.
In the midst however of the wonderful and seemingly inexplicable nature of this scene, there was one idea that instantly obtruded itself, and that I could never after banish from my mind. It is Falkland! In vain I struggled against the seeming improbability of the supposition. In vain I said, "Mr. Falkland, wise as he is, and pregnant in resources, acts by human, not by supernatural means. He may overtake me by surprise, and in a manner of which I had no previous expectation; but he cannot produce a great and notorious effect without some visible agency, however difficult it may be to trace that agency to its absolute author. He cannot, like those invisible personages who are supposed from time to time to interfere in human affairs, ride in the whirlwind, shroud himself in clouds and impenetrable darkness, and scatter destruction upon the earth from his secret habitation." Thus it was that I bribed my imagination, and endeavoured to persuade myself that my present unhappiness originated in a different source from my former. All evils appeared trivial to me, in comparison with the recollection and perpetuation of my parent misfortune. I felt like a man distracted, by the incoherence of my ideas to my present situation, excluding from it the machinations of Mr. Falkland, on the one hand; and on the other, by the horror I conceived at the bare possibility of again encountering his animosity, after a suspension of many weeks, a suspension as I had hoped for ever. An interval like this was an age to a person in the calamitous situation I had so long experienced. But, in spite of my efforts, I could not banish from my mind the dreadful idea. My original conceptions of the genius and perseverance of Mr. Falkland had been such, that I could with difficulty think any thing impossible to him. I knew not how to set up my own opinions of material causes and the powers of the human mind, as the limits of existence. Mr. Falkland had always been to my imagination an object of wonder, and that which excites our wonder we scarcely suppose ourselves competent to analyse.
It may well be conceived, that one of the first persons to whom I thought of applying for an explanation of this dreadful mystery was the accomplished Laura. My disappointment here cut me to the heart. I was not prepared for it. I recollected the ingenuousness of her nature, the frankness of her manners, the partiality with which she had honoured me. If I were mortified with the coldness, the ruggedness, and the cruel mistake of principles with which the village inhabitants repelled my enquiries, the mortification I suffered, only drove me more impetuously to seek the cure of my griefs from this object of my admiration. "In Laura," said I, "I am secure from these vulgar prejudices. I confide in her justice. I am sure she will not cast me off unheard, nor without strictly examining a question on all sides, in which every thing that is valuable to a person she once esteemed, may be involved."
Thus encouraging myself, I turned my steps to the place of her residence. As I passed along I called up all my recollection, I summoned my faculties. "I may be made miserable," said I, "but it shall not be for want of any exertion of mine, that promises to lead to happiness. I will be clear, collected, simple in narrative, ingenuous in communication. I will leave nothing unsaid that the case may require. I will not volunteer any thing that relates to my former transactions with Mr. Falkland; but, if I find that my present calamity is connected with those transactions, I will not fear but that by an honest explanation I shall remove it."
I knocked at the door. A servant appeared, and told me that her mistress hoped I would excuse her; she must really beg to dispense with my visit.
I was thunderstruck. I was rooted to the spot. I had been carefully preparing my mind for every thing that I supposed likely to happen, but this event had not entered into my calculations. I roused myself in a partial degree, and walked away without uttering a word.
I had not gone far before I perceived one of the workmen following me, who put into my hands a billet. The contents were these:—
"Let me see you no more. I have a right at least to expect your compliance with this requisition; and, upon that condition, I pardon the enormous impropriety and guilt with which you have conducted yourself to me and my family.
The sensations with which I read these few lines are indescribable. I found in them a dreadful confirmation of the calamity that on all sides invaded me. But what I felt most was the unmoved coldness with which they appeared to be written. This coldness from Laura, my comforter, my friend, my mother! To dismiss, to cast me off for ever, without one thought of compunction!
I determined however, in spite of her requisition, and in spite of her coldness, to have an explanation with her. I did not despair of conquering the antipathy she harboured. I did not fear that I should rouse her from the vulgar and unworthy conception, of condemning a man, in points the most material to his happiness, without stating the accusations that are urged against him, and without hearing him in reply.
Though I had no doubt, by means of resolution, of gaining access to her in her house, yet I preferred taking her unprepared, and not warmed against me by any previous contention. Accordingly, the next morning, at the time she usually devoted to half an hour's air and exercise, I hastened to her garden, leaped the paling, and concealed myself in an arbour. Presently I saw, from my retreat, the younger part of the family strolling through the garden, and from thence into the fields; but it was not my business to be seen by them. I looked after them however with earnestness, unobserved; and I could not help asking myself, with a deep and heartfelt sigh, whether it were possible that I saw them now for the last time?
They had not advanced far into the fields, before their mother made her appearance. I observed in her her usual serenity and sweetness of countenance. I could feel my heart knocking against my ribs. My whole frame was in a tumult. I stole out of the arbour; and, as I advanced nearer, my pace became quickened.
"For God's sake, madam," exclaimed I, "give me a hearing! Do not avoid me!"
She stood still. "No, sir," she replied, "I shall not avoid you. I wished you to dispense with this meeting; but since I cannot obtain that—I am conscious of no wrong; and therefore, though the meeting gives me pain, it inspires me with no fear."
"Oh, madam," answered I, "my friend! the object of all my reverence! whom I once ventured to call my mother! can you wish not to hear me? Can yon have no anxiety for my justification, whatever may be the unfavourable impression you may have received against me?"
"Not an atom. I have neither wish nor inclination to hear you. That tale which, in its plain and unadorned state, is destructive of the character of him to whom it relates, no colouring can make an honest one."
"Good God! Can you think of condemning a man when you have heard only one side of his story?"
"Indeed I can," replied she with dignity. "The maxim of hearing both sides may be very well in some cases; but it would be ridiculous to suppose that there are not cases, that, at the first mention, are too clear to admit the shadow of a doubt. By a well-concerted defence you may give me new reasons to admire your abilities; but I am acquainted with them already. I can admire your abilities, without tolerating your character."
"Madam! Amiable, exemplary Laura! whom, in the midst of all your harshness and inflexibility, I honour! I conjure you, by every thing that is sacred, to tell me what it is that has filled you with this sudden aversion to me."
"No, sir; that you shall never obtain from me. I have nothing to say to you. I stand still and hear you; because virtue disdains to appear abashed and confounded in the presence of vice. Your conduct even at this moment, in my opinion, condemns you. True virtue refuses the drudgery of explanation and apology. True virtue shines by its own light, and needs no art to set it off. You have the first principles of morality as yet to learn."
"And can you imagine, that the most upright conduct is always superior to the danger of ambiguity?"
"Exactly so. Virtue, sir, consists in actions, and not in words. The good man and the bad are characters precisely opposite, not characters distinguished from each other by imperceptible shades. The Providence that rules us all, has not permitted us to be left without a clew in the most important of all questions. Eloquence may seek to confound it; but it shall be my care to avoid its deceptive influence. I do not wish to have my understanding perverted, and all the differences of things concealed from my apprehension."
"Madam, madam! it would be impossible for you to hold this language, if you had not always lived in this obscure retreat, if you had ever been conversant with the passions and institutions of men."
"It may be so. And, if that be the case, I have great reason to be thankful to my God, who has thus enabled me to preserve the innocence of my heart, and the integrity of my understanding."
"Can you believe then that ignorance is the only, or the safest, preservative of integrity?"
"Sir, I told you at first, and I repeat to you again, that all your declamation is in vain. I wish you would have saved me and yourself that pain which is the only thing that can possibly result from it. But let us suppose that virtue could ever be the equivocal thing you would have me believe. Is it possible, if you had been honest, that you would not have acquainted me with your story? Is it possible, that you would have left me to have been informed of it by a mere accident, and with all the shocking aggravations you well knew that accident would give it? Is it possible you should have violated the most sacred of all trusts, and have led me unknowingly to admit to the intercourse of my children a character, which if, as you pretend, it is substantially honest, you cannot deny to be blasted and branded in the face of the whole world? Go, sir; I despise you. You are a monster and not a man. I cannot tell whether my personal situation misleads me; but, to my thinking, this last action of yours is worse than all the rest. Nature has constituted me the protector of my children. I shall always remember and resent the indelible injury you have done them. You have wounded me to the very heart, and have taught me to what a pitch the villainy of man can extend."
"Madam, I can be silent no longer. I see that you have by some means come to a hearing of the story of Mr. Falkland."
"I have. I am astonished you have the effrontery to pronounce his name. That name has been a denomination, as far back as my memory can reach, for the most exalted of mortals, the wisest and most generous of men."
"Madam, I owe it to myself to set you right on this subject. Mr. Falkland—"
"Mr. Williams, I see my children returning from the fields, and coming this way. The basest action you ever did was the obtruding yourself upon them as an instructor. I insist that you see them no more. I command you to be silent. I command you to withdraw. If you persist in your absurd resolution of expostulating with me, you must take some other time."
I could continue no longer. I was in a manner heart-broken through the whole of this dialogue. I could not think of protracting the pain of this admirable woman, upon whom, though I was innocent of the crimes she imputed to me, I had inflicted so much pain already. I yielded to the imperiousness of her commands, and withdrew.
I hastened, without knowing why, from the presence of Laura to my own habitation. Upon entering the house, an apartment of which I occupied, I found it totally deserted of its usual inhabitants. The woman and her children were gone to enjoy the freshness of the breeze. The husband was engaged in his usual out-door occupations. The doors of persons of the lower order in this part of the country are secured, in the day-time, only with a latch. I entered, and went into the kitchen of the family. Here, as I looked round, my eyes accidentally glanced upon a paper lying in one corner, which, by some association I was unable to explain, roused in me a strong sensation of suspicion and curiosity. I eagerly went towards it, caught it up, and found it to be the very paper of the WONDERFUL AND SURPRISING HISTORY OF CALEB WILLIAMS, the discovery of which, towards the close of my residence in London, had produced in me such inexpressible anguish.
This encounter at once cleared up all the mystery that hung upon my late transactions. Abhorred and intolerable certainty succeeded to the doubts which had haunted my mind. It struck me with the rapidity of lightning. I felt a sudden torpor and sickness that pervaded every fibre of my frame.
Was there no hope that remained for me? Was acquittal useless? Was there no period, past or in prospect, that could give relief to my sufferings? Was the odious and atrocious falsehood that had been invented against me, to follow me wherever I went, to strip me of character, to deprive me of the sympathy and good-will of mankind, to wrest from me the very bread by which life must be sustained?
For the space perhaps of half an hour the agony I felt from this termination to my tranquillity, and the expectation it excited of the enmity which would follow me through every retreat, was such as to bereave me of all consistent thinking, much more of the power of coming to any resolution. As soon as this giddiness and horror of the mind subsided, and the deadly calm that invaded my faculties was no more, one stiff and master gale gained the ascendancy, and drove me to an instant desertion of this late cherished retreat. I had no patience to enter into further remonstrance and explanation with the inhabitants of my present residence. I believed that it was in vain to hope to recover the favourable prepossession and tranquillity I had lately enjoyed. In encountering the prejudices that were thus armed against me, I should have to deal with a variety of dispositions, and, though I might succeed with some, I could not expect to succeed with all. I had seen too much of the reign of triumphant falsehood, to have that sanguine confidence in the effects of my innocence, which would have suggested itself to the mind of any other person of my propensities and my age. The recent instance which had occurred in my conversation with Laura might well contribute to discourage me. I could not endure the thought of opposing the venom that was thus scattered against me, in detail and through its minuter particles. If ever it should be necessary to encounter it, if I were pursued like a wild beast, till I could no longer avoid turning upon my hunters, I would then turn upon the true author of this unprincipled attack; I would encounter the calumny in its strong hold; I would rouse myself to an exertion hitherto unessayed; and, by the firmness, intrepidity, and unalterable constancy I should display, would yet compel mankind to believe Mr. Falkland a suborner and a murderer!
I hasten to the conclusion of my melancholy story. I began to write soon after the period to which I have now conducted it. This was another resource that my mind, ever eager in inventing means to escape from my misery, suggested. In my haste to withdraw myself from the retreat in Wales, where first the certainty of Mr. Falkland's menaces was confirmed to me, I left behind me the apparatus of my etymological enquiries, and the papers I had written upon the subject. I have never been able to persuade myself to resume this pursuit. It is always discouraging, to begin over again a laborious task, and exert one's self to recover a position we had already occupied. I knew not how soon or how abruptly I might be driven from any new situation; the appendages of the study in which I had engaged were too cumbrous for this state of dependence and uncertainty; they only served to give new sharpness to the enmity of my foe, and new poignancy to my hourly-renewing distress.
But what was of greatest importance, and made the deepest impression upon my mind, was my separation from the family of Laura. Fool that I was, to imagine that there was any room for me in the abodes of friendship and tranquillity! It was now first, that I felt, with the most intolerable acuteness, how completely I was cut off from the whole human species. Other connections I had gained, comparatively without interest; and I saw them dissolved without the consummation of agony. I had never experienced the purest refinements of friendship, but in two instances, that of Collins, and this of the family of Laura. Solitude, separation, banishment! These are words often in the mouths of human beings; but few men except myself have felt the full latitude of their meaning. The pride of philosophy has taught us to treat man as an individual. He is no such thing. He holds necessarily, indispensably, to his species. He is like those twin-births, that have two heads indeed, and four hands; but, if you attempt to detach them from each other, they are inevitably subjected to miserable and lingering destruction.
It was this circumstance, more than all the rest, that gradually gorged my heart with abhorrence of Mr. Falkland. I could not think of his name but with a sickness and a loathing that seemed more than human. It was by his means that I suffered the loss of one consolation after another, of every thing that was happiness, or that had the resemblance of happiness.
The writing of these memoirs served me as a source of avocation for several years. For some time I had a melancholy satisfaction in it. I was better pleased to retrace the particulars of calamities that had formerly afflicted me, than to look forward, as at other times I was too apt to do, to those by which I might hereafter be overtaken. I conceived that my story, faithfully digested, would carry in it an impression of truth that few men would be able to resist; or, at worst, that, by leaving it behind me when I should no longer continue to exist, posterity might be induced to do me justice; and, seeing in my example what sort of evils are entailed upon mankind by society as it is at present constituted, might be inclined to turn their attention upon the fountain from which such bitter waters have been accustomed to flow. But these motives have diminished in their influence. I have contracted a disgust for life and all its appendages. Writing, which was at first a pleasure, is changed into a burthen. I shall compress into a small compass what remains to be told.
I discovered, not long after the period of which I am speaking, the precise cause of the reverse I had experienced in my residence in Wales, and, included in that cause, what it was I had to look for in my future adventures. Mr. Falkland had taken the infernal Gines into his pay, a man critically qualified for the service in which he was now engaged, by the unfeeling brutality of his temper, by his habits of mind at once audacious and artful, and by the peculiar animosity and vengeance he had conceived against me. The employment to which this man was hired, was that of following me from place to place, blasting my reputation, and preventing me from the chance, by continuing long in one residence, of acquiring a character for integrity, that should give new weight to any accusation I might at a future time be induced to prefer. Ho had come to the seat of my residence with the bricklayers and labourers I have mentioned; and, while he took care to keep out of sight so far as related to me, was industrious in disseminating that which, in the eye of the world, seemed to amount to a demonstration of the profligacy and detestableness of my character. It was no doubt from him that the detested scroll had been procured, which I had found in my habitation immediately prior to my quitting it. In all this Mr. Falkland, reasoning upon his principles, was only employing a necessary precaution. There was something in the temper of his mind, that impressed him with aversion to the idea of violently putting an end to my existence; at the same time that unfortunately he could never deem himself sufficiently secured against my recrimination, so long as I remained alive. As to the fact of Gines being retained by him for this tremendous purpose, he by no means desired that it should become generally known; but neither did he look upon the possibility of its being known with terror. It was already too notorious for his wishes, that I had advanced the most odious charges against him. If he regarded me with abhorrence as the adversary of his fame, those persons who had had occasion to be in any degree acquainted with our history, did not entertain less abhorrence against me for my own sake. If they should at any time know the pains he exerted in causing my evil reputation to follow me, they would consider it as an act of impartial justice, perhaps as a generous anxiety to prevent other men from being imposed upon and injured, as he had been.
What expedient was I to employ for the purpose of counteracting the meditated and barbarous prudence, which was thus destined, in all changes of scene, to deprive me of the benefits and consolations of human society? There was one expedient against which I was absolutely determined—disguise. I had experienced so many mortifications, and such intolerable restraint, when I formerly had recourse to it; it was associated in my memory with sensations of such acute anguish, that my mind was thus far entirely convinced: life was not worth purchasing at so high a price! But, though in this respect I was wholly resolved, there was another point that did not appear so material, and in which therefore I was willing to accommodate myself to circumstances. I was contented, if that would insure my peace, to submit to the otherwise unmanly expedient of passing by a different name.
But the change of my name, the abruptness with which I removed from place to place, the remoteness and the obscurity which I proposed to myself in the choice of my abode, were all insufficient to elude the sagacity of Gines, or the unrelenting constancy with which Mr. Falkland incited my tormentor to pursue me. Whithersoever I removed myself it was not long before I had occasion to perceive this detested adversary in my rear. No words can enable me to do justice to the sensations which this circumstance produced in me. It was like what has been described of the eye of Omniscience, pursuing the guilty sinner, and darting a ray that awakens him to new sensibility, at the very moment that, otherwise, exhausted nature would lull him into a temporary oblivion of the reproaches of his conscience. Sleep fled from my eyes. No walls could hide me from the discernment of this hated foe. Every where his industry was unwearied to create for me new distress. Rest I had none; relief I had none: never could I count upon an instant's security; never could I wrap myself in the shroud of oblivion. The minutes in which I did not actually perceive him, were contaminated and blasted with the certain expectation of his speedy interference. In my first retreat I had passed a few weeks of delusive tranquillity, but never after was I happy enough to attain to so much as that shadowy gratification. I spent some years in this dreadful vicissitude of pain. My sensations at certain periods amounted to insanity.
I pursued in every succeeding instance the conduct I had adopted at first. I determined never to enter into a contest of accusation and defence with the execrable Gines. If I could have submitted to it in other respects, what purpose would it answer? I should have but an imperfect and mutilated story to tell. This story had succeeded with persons already prepossessed in my favour by personal intercourse; but could it succeed with strangers? It had succeeded so long as I was able to hide myself from my pursuers; but could it succeed now, that this appeared impracticable, and that they proceeded by arming against me a whole vicinity at once?
It is inconceivable the mischiefs that this kind of existence included. Why should I insist upon such aggravations as hunger, beggary, and external wretchedness? These were an inevitable consequence. It was by the desertion of mankind that, in each successive instance, I was made acquainted with my fate. Delay in such a moment served but to increase the evil; and when I fled, meagreness and penury were the ordinary attendants of my course. But this was a small consideration. Indignation at one time, and unconquerable perseverance at another, sustained me, where humanity, left to itself, would probably have sunk.
It has already appeared that I was not of a temper to endure calamity, without endeavouring, by every means I could devise, to elude and disarm it. Recollecting, as I was habituated to do, the various projects by which my situation could be meliorated, the question occurred to me, "Why should I be harassed by the pursuits of this Gines? Why, man to man, may I not, by the powers of my mind, attain the ascendancy over him? At present he appears to be the persecutor, and I the persecuted: is not this difference the mere creature of the imagination? May I not employ my ingenuity to vex him with difficulties, and laugh at the endless labour to which he will be condemned?"
Alas, this is a speculation for a mind at ease! It is not the persecution, but the catastrophe which is annexed to it, that makes the difference between the tyrant and the sufferer! In mere corporal exertion the hunter perhaps is upon a level with the miserable animal he pursues! But could it be forgotten by either of us, that at every stage Gines was to gratify his malignant passions, by disseminating charges of the most infamous nature, and exciting against me the abhorrence of every honest bosom, while I was to sustain the still-repeated annihilation of my peace, my character, and my bread? Could I, by any refinement of reason, convert this dreadful series into sport? I had no philosophy that qualified me for so extraordinary an effort. If, under other circumstances, I could even have entertained so strange an imagination, I was restrained in the present instance by the necessity of providing for myself the means of subsistence, and the fetters which, through that necessity, the forms of human society imposed upon my exertions.
In one of those changes of residence, to which my miserable fate repeatedly compelled me, I met, upon a road which I was obliged to traverse, the friend of my youth, my earliest and best beloved friend, the venerable Collins. It was one of those misfortunes which served to accumulate my distress, that this man had quitted the island of Great Britain only a very few weeks before that fatal reverse of fortune which had ever since pursued me with unrelenting eagerness. Mr. Falkland, in addition to the large estate he possessed in England, had a very valuable plantation in the West Indies. This property had been greatly mismanaged by the person who had the direction of it on the spot; and, after various promises and evasions on his part, which, however they might serve to beguile the patience of Mr. Falkland, had been attended with no salutary fruits, it was resolved that Mr. Collins should go over in person, to rectify the abuses which had so long prevailed. There had even been some idea of his residing several years, if not settling finally, upon the plantation. From that hour to the present I had never received the smallest intelligence respecting him.
I had always considered the circumstance of his critical absence as one of my severest misfortunes. Mr. Collins had been one of the first persons, even in the period of my infancy, to conceive hopes of me, as of something above the common standard; and had contributed more than any other to encourage and assist my juvenile studies. He had been the executor of the little property of my father, who had fixed upon him for that purpose in consideration of the mutual affection that existed between us; and I seemed, on every account, to have more claim upon his protection than upon that of any other human being. I had always believed that, had he been present in the crisis of my fortune, he would have felt a conviction of my innocence; and, convinced himself, would, by means of the venerableness and energy of his character, have interposed so effectually, as to have saved me the greater part of my subsequent misfortunes.
There was yet another idea in my mind relative to this subject, which had more weight with me, than even the substantial exertions of friendship I should have expected from him. The greatest aggravation of my present lot was, that I was cut off from the friendship of mankind. I can safely affirm, that poverty and hunger, that endless wanderings, that a blasted character and the curses that clung to my name, were all of them slight misfortunes compared to this. I endeavoured to sustain myself by the sense of my integrity, but the voice of no man upon earth echoed to the voice of my conscience. "I called aloud; but there was none to answer; there was none that regarded." To me the whole world was unhearing as the tempest, and as cold as the torpedo. Sympathy, the magnetic virtue, the hidden essence of our life, was extinct. Nor was this the sum of my misery. This food, so essential to an intelligent existence, seemed perpetually renewing before me in its fairest colours, only the more effectually to elude my grasp, and to mock my hunger. From time to time I was prompted to unfold the affections of my soul, only to be repelled with the greater anguish, and to be baffled in a way the most intolerably mortifying.
No sight therefore could give me a purer delight than that which now presented itself to my eyes. It was some time however, before either of us recognised the person of the other. Ten years had elapsed since our last interview. Mr. Collins looked much older than he had done at that period; in addition to which, he was, in his present appearance, pale, sickly, and thin. These unfavourable effects had been produced by the change of climate, particularly trying to persons in an advanced period of life. Add to which, I supposed him to be at that moment in the West Indies. I was probably as much altered in the period that had elapsed as he had been. I was the first to recollect him. He was on horseback; I on foot. I had suffered him to pass me. In a moment the full idea of who he was rushed upon my mind; I ran; I called with an impetuous voice; I was unable to restrain the vehemence of my emotions.
The ardour of my feelings disguised my usual tone of speaking, which otherwise Mr. Collins would infallibly have recognised. His sight was already dim; he pulled up his horse till I should overtake him; and then said, "Who are you? I do not know you."
"My father!" exclaimed I, embracing one of his knees with fervour and delight, "I am your son; once your little Caleb, whom you a thousand times loaded with your kindness!"
The unexpected repetition of my name gave a kind of shuddering emotion to my friend, which was however checked by his age, and the calm and benevolent philosophy that formed one of his most conspicuous habits.
"I did not expect to see you!" replied he: "I did not wish it!"
"My best, my oldest friend!" answered I, respect blending itself with my impatience, "do not say so! I have not a friend any where in the whole world but you! In you at least let me find sympathy and reciprocal affection! If you knew how anxiously I have thought of you during the whole period of your absence, you would not thus grievously disappoint me in your return!"
"How is it," said Mr. Collins, gravely, "that you have been reduced to this forlorn condition? Was it not the inevitable consequence of your own actions?"
"The actions of others, not mine! Does not your heart tell you that I am innocent?"
"No. My observation of your early character taught me that you would be extraordinary; but, unhappily, all extraordinary men are not good men: that seems to be a lottery, dependent on circumstances apparently the most trivial."
"Will you hear my justification? I am as sure as I am of my existence, that I can convince you of my purity."
"Certainly, if you require it, I will hear you. But that must not be just now. I could have been glad to decline it wholly. At my age I am not fit for the storm; and I am not so sanguine as you in my expectation of the result. Of what would you convince me? That Mr. Falkland is a suborner and murderer?"
I made no answer. My silence was an affirmative to the question.
"And what benefit will result from this conviction? I have known you a promising boy, whose character might turn to one side or the other as events should decide. I have known Mr. Falkland in his maturer years, and have always admired him, as the living model of liberality and goodness. If you could change all my ideas, and show me that there was no criterion by which vice might be prevented from being mistaken for virtue, what benefit would arise from that? I must part with all my interior consolation, and all my external connections. And for what? What is it you propose? The death of Mr. Falkland by the hands of the hangman."
"No; I will not hurt a hair of his head, unless compelled to it by a principle of defence. But surely you owe me justice?"
"What justice? The justice of proclaiming your innocence? You know what consequences are annexed to that. But I do not believe I shall find you innocent. If you even succeed in perplexing my understanding, you will not succeed in enlightening it. Such is the state of mankind, that innocence, when involved in circumstances of suspicion, can scarcely ever make out a demonstration of its purity; and guilt can often make us feel an insurmountable reluctance to the pronouncing it guilt. Meanwhile, for the purchase of this uncertainty, I must sacrifice all the remaining comforts of my life. I believe Mr. Falkland to be virtuous; but I know him to be prejudiced. He would never forgive me even this accidental parley, if by any means he should come to be acquainted with it."
"Oh, argue not the consequences that are possible to result!" answered I, impatiently, "I have a right to your kindness; I have a right to your assistance!"
"You have them. You have them to a certain degree; and it is not likely that, by any process of examination, you can have them entire. You know my habits of thinking. I regard you as vicious; but I do not consider the vicious as proper objects of indignation and scorn. I consider you as a machine; you are not constituted, I am afraid, to be greatly useful to your fellow men: but you did not make yourself; you are just what circumstances irresistibly compelled you to be. I am sorry for your ill properties; but I entertain no enmity against you, nothing but benevolence. Considering you in the light in which I at present consider you, I am ready to contribute every thing in my power to your real advantage, and would gladly assist you, if I knew how, in detecting and extirpating the errors that have misled you. You have disappointed me, but I have no reproaches to utter: it is more necessary for me to feel compassion for you, than that I should accumulate your misfortune by my censures."
What could I say to such a man as this? Amiable, incomparable man! Never was my mind more painfully divided than at that moment. The more he excited my admiration, the more imperiously did my heart command me, whatever were the price it should cost, to extort his friendship. I was persuaded that severe duty required of him, that he should reject all personal considerations, that he should proceed resolutely to the investigation of the truth, and that, if he found the result terminating in my favour, he should resign all his advantages, and, deserted as I was by the world, make a common cause, and endeavour to compensate the general injustice. But was it for me to force this conduct upon him, if, now in his declining years, his own fortitude shrank from it? Alas, neither he nor I foresaw the dreadful catastrophe that was so closely impending! Otherwise, I am well assured that no tenderness for his remaining tranquillity would have withheld him from a compliance with my wishes! On the other hand, could I pretend to know what evils might result to him from his declaring himself my advocate? Might not his integrity be browbeaten and defeated, as mine had been? Did the imbecility of his grey hairs afford no advantage to my terrible adversary in the contest? Might not Mr. Falkland reduce him to a condition as wretched and low as mine? After all, was it not vice in me to desire to involve another man in my sufferings? If I regarded them as intolerable, this was still an additional reason why I should bear them alone.
Influenced by these considerations, I assented to his views. I assented to be thought hardly of by the man in the world whose esteem I most ardently desired, rather than involve him in possible calamity. I assented to the resigning what appeared to me at that moment as the last practicable comfort of my life; a comfort, upon the thought of which, while I surrendered it, my mind dwelt with undescribable longings. Mr. Collins was deeply affected with the apparent ingenuousness with which I expressed my feelings. The secret struggle of his mind was, "Can this be hypocrisy? The individual with whom I am conferring, if virtuous, is one of the most disinterestedly virtuous persons in the world." We tore ourselves from each other. Mr. Collins promised, as far as he was able, to have an eye upon my vicissitudes, and to assist me, in every respect that was consistent with a just recollection of consequences. Thus I parted as it were with the last expiring hope of my mind; and voluntarily consented, thus maimed and forlorn, to encounter all the evils that were yet in store for me.
This is the latest event which at present I think it necessary to record. I shall doubtless hereafter have further occasion to take up the pen. Great and unprecedented as my sufferings have been, I feel intimately persuaded that there are worse sufferings that await me. What mysterious cause is it that enables me to write this, and not to perish under the horrible apprehension!
It is as I foreboded. The presage with which I was visited was prophetic. I am now to record a new and terrible revolution of my fortune and my mind.
Having made experiment of various situations with one uniform result, I at length determined to remove myself, if possible, from the reach of my persecutor, by going into voluntary banishment from my native soil. This was my last resource for tranquillity, for honest fame, for those privileges to which human life is indebted for the whole of its value. "In some distant climate," said I, "surely I may find that security which is necessary to persevering pursuit; surely I may lift my head erect, associate with men upon the footing of a man, acquire connections, and preserve them!" It is inconceivable with what ardent Teachings of the soul I aspired to this termination.
This last consolation was denied me by the inexorable Falkland.
At the time the project was formed I was at no great distance from the east coast of the island, and I resolved to take ship at Harwich, and pass immediately into Holland. I accordingly repaired to that place, and went, almost as soon as I arrived, to the port. But there was no vessel perfectly ready to sail. I left the port, and withdrew to an inn, where, after some time, I retired to a chamber. I was scarcely there before the door of the room was opened, and the man whose countenance was the most hateful to my eyes, Gines, entered the apartment. He shut the door as soon as he entered.
"Youngster," said he, "I have a little private intelligence to communicate to you. I come as a friend, and that I may save you a labour-in-vain trouble. If you consider what I have to say in that light, it will be the better for you. It is my business now, do you see, for want of a better, to see that you do not break out of bounds. Not that I much matter having one man for my employer, or dancing attendance after another's heels; but I have special kindness for you, for some good turns that you wot of, and therefore I do not stand upon ceremonies! You have led me a very pretty round already; and, out of the love I bear you, you shall lead me as much further, if you will. But beware the salt seas! They are out of my orders. You are a prisoner at present, and I believe all your life will remain so. Thanks to the milk-and-water softness of your former master! If I had the ordering of these things, it should go with you in another fashion. As long as you think proper, you are a prisoner within the rules; and the rules with which the soft-hearted squire indulges you, are all England, Scotland, and Wales. But you are not to go out of these climates. The squire is determined you shall never pass the reach of his disposal. He has therefore given orders that, whenever you attempt so to do, you shall be converted from a prisoner at large to a prisoner in good earnest. A friend of mine followed you just now to the harbour; I was within call; and, if there had been any appearance of your setting your foot from land, we should have been with you in a trice, and laid you fast by the heels. I would advise you, for the future, to keep at a proper distance from the sea, for fear of the worst. You see I tell you all this for your good. For my part, I should be better satisfied if you were in limbo, with a rope about your neck, and a comfortable bird's eye prospect to the gallows: but I do as I am directed; and so good night to you!"
The intelligence thus conveyed to me occasioned an instantaneous revolution in both my intellectual and animal system. I disdained to answer, or take the smallest notice of the fiend by whom it was delivered. It is now three days since I received it, and from that moment to the present my blood has been in a perpetual ferment. My thoughts wander from one idea of horror to another, with incredible rapidity. I have had no sleep. I have scarcely remained in one posture for a minute together. It has been with the utmost difficulty that I have been able to command myself far enough to add a few pages to my story. But, uncertain as I am of the events of each succeeding hour, I determined to force myself to the performance of this task. All is not right within me. How it will terminate, God knows. I sometimes fear that I shall be wholly deserted of my reason.
What—dark, mysterious, unfeeling, unrelenting tyrant!—is it come to this? When Nero and Caligula swayed the Roman sceptre, it was a fearful thing to offend these bloody rulers. The empire had already spread itself from climate to climate, and from sea to sea. If their unhappy victim fled to the rising of the sun, where the luminary of day seems to us first to ascend from the waves of the ocean, the power of the tyrant was still behind him. If he withdrew to the west, to Hesperian darkness, and the shores of barbarian Thule, still he was not safe from his gore-drenched foe.—Falkland! art thou the offspring, in whom the lineaments of these tyrants are faithfully preserved? Was the world, with all its climates, made in vain for thy helpless unoffending victim?
Tyrants have trembled, surrounded with whole armies of their Janissaries! What should make thee inaccessible to my fury? No, I will use no daggers! I will unfold a tale!—I will show thee to the world for what thou art; and all the men that live, shall confess my truth!—Didst thou imagine that I was altogether passive, a mere worm, organised to feel sensations of pain, but no emotion of resentment? Didst thou imagine that there was no danger in inflicting on me pains however great, miseries however dreadful? Didst thou believe me impotent, imbecile, and idiot-like, with no understanding to contrive thy ruin, and no energy to perpetrate it?
I will tell a tale—! The justice of the country shall hear me! The elements of nature in universal uproar shall not interrupt me! I will speak with a voice more fearful than thunder!—Why should I be supposed to speak from any dishonourable motive? I am under no prosecution now! I shall not now appear to be endeavouring to remove a criminal indictment from myself, by throwing it back on its author!—Shall I regret the ruin that will overwhelm thee? Too long have I been tender-hearted and forbearing! What benefit has ever resulted from my mistaken clemency? There is no evil thou hast scrupled to accumulate upon me! Neither will I be more scrupulous! Thou hast shown no mercy; and thou shalt receive none!—I must be calm! bold as a lion, yet collected!
This is a moment pregnant with fate. I know—I think I know—that I will be triumphant, and crush my seemingly omnipotent foe. But, should it be otherwise, at least he shall not be every way successful. His fame shall not be immortal as he thinks. These papers shall preserve the truth; they shall one day be published, and then the world shall do justice on us both. Recollecting that, I shall not die wholly without consolation. It is not to be endured that falsehood and tyranny should reign for ever.
How impotent are the precautions of man against the eternally existing laws of the intellectual world! This Falkland has invented against me every species of foul accusation. He has hunted me from city to city. He has drawn his lines of circumvallation round me that I may not escape. He has kept his scenters of human prey for ever at my heels. He may hunt me out of the world.—In vain! With this engine, this little pen, I defeat all his machinations; I stab him in the very point he was most solicitous to defend!
Collins! I now address myself to you. I have consented that you should yield me no assistance in my present terrible situation. I am content to die rather than do any thing injurious to your tranquillity. But remember, you are my father still! I conjure you, by all the love you ever bore me, by the benefits you have conferred on me, by the forbearance and kindness towards you that now penetrates my soul, by my innocence—for, if these be the last words I shall ever write, I die protesting my innocence!—by all these, or whatever tie more sacred has influence on your soul, I conjure you, listen to my last request! Preserve these papers from destruction, and preserve them from Falkland! It is all I ask! I have taken care to provide a safe mode of conveying them into your possession: and I have a firm confidence, which I will not suffer to depart from me, that they will one day find their way to the public!
The pen lingers in my trembling fingers! Is there any thing I have left unsaid?—The contents of the fatal trunk, from which all my misfortunes originated, I have never been able to ascertain. I once thought it contained some murderous instrument or relic connected with the fate of the unhappy Tyrrel. I am now persuaded that the secret it encloses, is a faithful narrative of that and its concomitant transactions, written by Mr. Falkland, and reserved in case of the worst, that, if by any unforeseen event his guilt should come to be fully disclosed, it might contribute to redeem the wreck of his reputation. But the truth or the falsehood of this conjecture is of little moment. If Falkland shall never be detected to the satisfaction of the world, such a narrative will probably never see the light. In that case this story of mine may amply, severely perhaps, supply its place.
I know not what it is that renders me thus solemn. I have a secret foreboding, as if I should never again be master of myself. If I succeed in what I now meditate respecting Falkland, my precaution in the disposal of these papers will have been unnecessary; I shall no longer be reduced to artifice and evasion. If I fail, the precaution will appear to have been wisely chosen.
* * * * *
All is over. I have carried into execution my meditated attempt. My situation is totally changed; I now sit down to give an account of it. For several weeks after the completion of this dreadful business, my mind was in too tumultuous a state to permit me to write. I think I shall now be able to arrange my thoughts sufficiently for that purpose. Great God! how wondrous, how terrible are the events that have intervened since I was last employed in a similar manner! It is no wonder that my thoughts were solemn, and my mind filled with horrible forebodings!
Having formed my resolution, I set out from Harwich, for the metropolitan town of the county in which Mr. Falkland resided. Gines, I well knew, was in my rear. That was of no consequence to me. He might wonder at the direction I pursued, but he could not tell with what purpose I pursued it. My design was a secret, carefully locked up in my own breast. It was not without a sentiment of terror that I entered a town which had been the scene of my long imprisonment. I proceeded to the house of the chief magistrate the instant I arrived, that I might give no time to my adversary to counterwork my proceeding.
I told him who I was, and that I was come from a distant part of the kingdom, for the purpose of rendering him the medium of a charge of murder against my former patron. My name was already familiar to him. He answered, that he could not take cognizance of my deposition; that I was an object of universal execration in that part of the world; and he was determined upon no account to be the vehicle of my depravity.
I warned him to consider well what he was doing. I called upon him for no favour; I only applied to him in the regular exercise of his function. Would he take upon him to say that he had a right, at his pleasure, to suppress a charge of this complicated nature? I had to accuse Mr. Falkland of repeated murders. The perpetrator knew that I was in possession of the truth upon the subject; and, knowing that, I went perpetually in danger of my life from his malice and revenge. I was resolved to go through with the business, if justice were to be obtained from any court in England. Upon what pretence did he refuse my deposition? I was in every respect a competent witness. I was of age to understand the nature of an oath; I was in my perfect senses; I was untarnished by the verdict of any jury, or the sentence of any judge. His private opinion of my character could not alter the law of the land. I demanded to be confronted with Mr. Falkland, and I was well assured I should substantiate the charge to the satisfaction of the whole world. If he did not think proper to apprehend him upon my single testimony, I should be satisfied if he only sent him notice of the charge, and summoned him to appear.